About 120 people who had followed Jesus remained in Jerusalem including the eleven remaining Apostles, Mary the mother of Jesus and Jesus' brothers and other disciples - both men and women. A twelfth Apostle was chosen.
About 120 people who had followed Jesus remained in Jerusalem including the eleven remaining Apostles, Mary the mother of Jesus and Jesus' brothers and other disciples - both men and women. A twelfth Apostle was chosen.
Welcome back to this series, The Spreading Flame. We’re now in Episode 2 and in Acts 1, following on from the story of Jesus being ascended into heaven and commissioning the Apostles to start the Church, under the power of the Holy Spirit. We’re going to be studying from Acts 1:12 - 26, as we discuss the theme of preparing for the coming of the Holy Spirit.
Introduction and Background
If we go to Acts 1:8, which we looked at in the last episode, we notice the key factor that Jesus states in his very last words to his Apostles, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you”. There’s a defining moment ahead. It hasn’t happened. There have been 40 days of Resurrection appearances since Easter Sunday. Jesus ascends to heaven and he says, “Wait in Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit is going to come upon you.” In this second episode, we’re looking at that intervening ten day period, where they’re praying and waiting, and then in the next episode, we’ll look at the day of Pentecost, when the Spirit comes dynamically in power, and the Church is launched.
Today we start by looking at the situation. This is immediately after the ascension.
12 ’Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. 13 When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.’Acts 1:12-14, NIV
The location is the city of Jerusalem. They have been just outside the city where Jesus ascended into heaven, from a place called the Mount of Olives, which is a very small hill right next to the city. It’s described here as a Sabbath’s day walk from the city, about 1 km. I’ve walked that walk myself. I’ve stood on the Mount of Olives where Jesus was stated to have ascended into heaven. You get a great view overlooking the city from the Mount of Olives. They go back into the city where they have been staying; they have accommodation in Jerusalem. These followers of Jesus didn’t live in this city; this is not their home area. They visited the city initially because they followed Jesus, as he said he was going to Jerusalem in order to bring about the fulfilment of his ministry; bring about a final confrontation with the religious authorities. He came in, in a blaze of glory, recorded in the Gospels, with thousands of people attending him in what we call the ‘Triumphal Entry’. Then five days later he died, three days after that he rose again from the dead. All his followers, Apostles and his family members have come from their home area to Jerusalem. They’re away from home and they’re being called to stay in Jerusalem, “Don’t go home, stay”, because this is where the action is going to start. Therefore, they’ve had to find lodgings for what appears to be quite a large number of people.
The eleven remaining Apostles are listed here. We remember from the last episode that Judas Iscariot had committed suicide, and so there was one Apostle missing. The eleven Apostles join together in prayer. They’re calling on God, “Send your Spirit, Lord! Show us the moment! How do we know what to do next? How do we know when to start preaching? You’ll have to show us! You’ll have to come! You’ll have to come in power!” These are deep and profound prayers; prayers with some degree of uncertainty, some degree of excitement. They were entering a totally new experience. They’d never had an experience where they were doing ministry for Jesus and he wasn’t there at all. They always knew they could find him nearby, or he was with them. But now he’s gone. They’re praying. They’re dependent on God and they’ve joined together with a number of other key people. It is very interesting to see who is stated as being present. It’s not just the eleven.
We find that a group described as ‘the women’ are there, female disciples. We know from the Gospel text that some women travelled on that journey from Galilee to Jerusalem with the Apostles and with Jesus, for example, Mary Magdalene who appears prominently in the story of the crucifixion and the resurrection. She is the first person Jesus appears to. She lives in Galilee. So, she must have made that journey to Jerusalem and stayed. There were a number of other women, too. There are one or two other women named by the Gospel writers at the foot of the cross. They’re probably in that group.
We also have Mary, the mother of Jesus. We already know that Mary came up in that group of people to Jerusalem because we saw her in the Gospels at the foot of the cross. It appears Mary has stayed in Jerusalem for all these days and weeks - a total period of fifty days until the day of Pentecost, from the day of Jesus’ resurrection. Not just Mary - some of Jesus’ own blood brothers, more accurately half-brothers - are also present. The Gospels tell us that Jesus had four half-brothers and an unnamed number of half-sisters. Some of his brothers, perhaps all four of them, are here in this group of disciples. This is supremely interesting because we know from the Gospels that they were sceptical in the past. There are occasions when they came to Jesus while he was in ministry and tried to pull him away from his ministry, said some critical things that are recorded by the Gospel writers, as if they didn’t believe in him at that time. But now his brothers are in the middle of the action. What’s happened? We have some other evidence. It’s very likely that James, one of Jesus’ half-brothers, is the James referred to later on in the book of Acts who becomes the leader of the Jerusalem church, and the author of the letter, or epistle, named James. We also have another epistle named Jude, and Jesus had a brother called Judas - a very common name. You see some other Apostles called Judas, not just Judas Iscariot, and you see them named here. Abbreviated to Jude, this, almost certainly, is another half-brother. So, James and Jude are believers. Something has happened to them during the time of the crucifixion and the resurrection. They probably experienced Jesus having been raised from the dead; they had resurrection appearances. There’s a tremendous miracle in that incredible little verse. They gathered to pray because they know something’s going to happen; something dramatic that’s going to launch their ministry.
In the next few verses, Luke tells us that, during this ten-day period, there was a problem they needed to resolve. This difficult question; this tragic question; this painful question of the gap left by Judas Iscariot. Let’s read what Luke tells us about this. He chooses to go into this in some detail, which is extremely interesting for our purposes.
15 ‘In those days’(that’s in that ten-day period)‘Peter’(that’s the leader of the Apostles) ‘stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty)’(that’s very interesting)‘ 16 and said, “Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus. 17 He was one of our number and shared in our ministry.” 18 (With the payment he received for his wickedness, Judas bought a field; there he fell headlong, his body burst open and all his intestines spilled out. 19 Everyone in Jerusalem heard about this, so they called the field in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) 20 “For,” said Peter, “it is written in the Book of Psalms: ‘May his place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in it,’ and, ‘May another take his place of leadership.’ 21 Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us for the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, 22 beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.”’Acts 1:15-22, NIV
There’s one hundred and twenty people here. We know there are the Apostles, a significant number of women, Mary and the brothers of Jesus but there must also have been a number of other male disciples, which are assumed by Luke to be in that number. That’s why Peter says here we must choose from amongst the men. It was necessary for them to choose a man for this role. We have to ask a deeper question, “Why bother?” Aren’t eleven enough? What’s the significance of the Twelve? We have to go deeper into the background of understanding this before we can work out why Peter felt it was necessary to make another appointment.
Let’s go back to the very beginning. In Mark 4 and in Luke 6, the Gospel writers describe the moment when Jesus prayed up a mountain overnight and had gathered a large number of his disciples with him. From that group, all of whom were following him, he chose a small number, twelve. He designated them with a title - Apostles, which means ambassadors, delegated representatives, people who carry the authority of the person sent, to a high level. They will represent him in another context when he’s not present. It’s a powerful word and it designates authority. Amongst all the disciples of Jesus, only twelve carried this unique authority. Jesus specifically said he wanted them to be with him, and he commissioned them during his life, with authority to go, to preach and to perform miracles - which they did. They first of all spent time with him and then they went out in pairs and reported back to him in Galilee. We saw that in various episodes in the Life of Jesus.
For some particular reason, Jesus chose twelve. It’s interesting that Israel as a nation has twelve tribes, so the number twelve is very important to the Jewish people. It’s like the Twelve became the foundation stone for the Church. Jesus also indicated that the Twelve would have a unique role in the future. For example, Matthew 19: 28:
“I tell you, at the renewal of all things,”(that means at the end of the age when Jesus returns)“when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”Matthew 19:28, NIV
That’s a very interesting statement. They will have a position of authority in his eternal Kingdom. The Twelve are unique. Equally interesting, when John, wrote in the book of Revelation, when he comes to describe the new heaven and the new earth, and the new Jerusalem, the eternal city of God, that will be the place of all believers in eternity, in Revelation 21:14 that, ‘The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve Apostles of the Lamb.’ Carrying through all of the history of salvation, right until the end of the age, the twelve Apostles really matter. They are the symbolic, practical, human, real foundation of the Church.
Some people have suggested that when Judas committed suicide, that it was Paul who was chosen to fulfil this role but it is not what the scriptures say. Paul has a different and unique role, which we’ll mention later.. “At this time,” Peter says, “we must make up the Twelve”. Maybe Jesus had spoken to him about this in those forty days of appearances and teaching, “When I’ve gone you must make an appointment”. Peter uses prophecy, interestingly. He goes to the Psalms and he quotes from two different Psalms written by David - Psalm 69 and Psalm 109. He uses them to describe somebody deserting their place of authority and then someone else replacing it. This may seem random to us, but it’s not at all random. For this reason: the Psalms were written by David and David is describing those who deserted him in his time as king of Israel; they turned away from him, and there was a need for other people to come and fulfil that role. Basically, Peter is saying that what happened to David, happened to Jesus. What happened to the first king of Israel is happening to the Son of David. In other words, we’ve got history repeating itself. He’s not saying that this prophesies directly into Judas’ situation without reference to the initial situation. This is what we call a typological prophecy. It’s a prophecy that has one outworking in the immediate future, and another outworking in the longer-term future, which has a similar theme. The theme is, that what happened to David happened to the Son of David, and that’s why he introduces those Scriptures.
He says, “We’ve got to appoint somebody who was with us, with Jesus.” In other words, who has the experience of Jesus from amongst the men in that group of one hundred and twenty, and also someone who witnessed Jesus’ resurrection? Another key criterion of the authority of these Apostles was that they witnessed Christ, that they met him, in his resurrection. If there happened to be someone there in the one hundred and twenty who had not witnessed Jesus’ resurrection, that person would be disqualified. Two people were chosen.
But before we get to that, we have another important question to ask. Why does Luke spend time talking about how Judas died? This is a tragic story. Let’s reiterate what happened and think about Judas Iscariot. It’s one of those painful episodes in the New Testament that we tend not to like to think about but we do need to understand why Luke put this account in here. We know from the Gospels that Judas had turned against Jesus and was corrupted for a significant period of time before the final events in his life. We know from John that he stole money from the common purse that he managed on behalf of the Apostles. He was a thief. He was financially motivated. We also know in much more detail the fact that he was tempted to betray Jesus by money. He left the Last Supper and went to the High Priest and told them in Jerusalem, “This is where this man is; this is where he’s going next; he’s going to go to a place called the Garden of Gethsemane. If you want to arrest him you go there; I’ll come with you, I’ll lead you to him.” Which is exactly what he did and he betrayed Jesus with a fateful kiss.
The story tells us, in Matthew 27, of the fact that he was aware of Jesus’ trial in the middle of the night, and during that night he suffered a tremendous personal crisis. He received money, but he was overwhelmed with guilt about what he had done. The money suddenly seemed as nothing to him. So, he went to the Temple courts shortly after that and literally threw the money back; he couldn’t take the money permanently. Then he committed suicide. His body ended up in a field. Luke takes up the story and implies that Judas bought the field but Matthew tells us that the field was bought by the religious authorities and in a sense, both are true because Judas bought the field, in the sense that it was bought with his money, but literally it was bought by the authorities. When he committed suicide, it appears he hanged himself and his body came down off the noose by some means and opened up in a terrible way in the field, the field of blood. A terrible, tragic event. Judas had to be replaced. Judas, by the way, is a warning and we’ll come to what the warning is at the end of this talk.
Making the Choice
We must move on. How do they resolve this issue?
23 ‘So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. 24 Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen 25 to take over this Apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” 26 Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven Apostles.’Acts 1:23-26, NIV
These two men had obviously experienced Jesus and been in the discipleship group and they had witnessed the resurrection. We don’t know anything about these men other than this. They are not referred to elsewhere in the text. They seemed to be good candidates. But how do you choose between them? Was it Peter who was going to make the choice? Were the eleven Apostles going to have a vote? They chose a method which seems unusual and odd to us, but it was basically a method of finding out the will of God used in the Old Testament: ‘casting of lots’. It’s referred to even as far back as in the Law of Moses, in the book of Leviticus. We don’t exactly know how they did it but Imagine putting two stones - a white stone and a black stone in a bag, and somebody then picks one out, and that is the one chosen. It’s that kind of method that they used. They knew that God had blessed this method of making decisions when there was no human way of working out what the right thing to do is. Interestingly enough, the ‘casting of lots’ is never referred to again in the in the New Testament, probably because once the Holy Spirit comes in power, they can learn to trust the discernment of the Spirit, the sense of guidance from the Spirit, that they were not yet used to, because they were living in an experience before the Spirit had come. That’s a very interesting reflection: this is the last time this method is used. A new era is coming. But it was still a reliable method because God oversaw the conclusion, and the lot fell to Matthias and so, the twelve were restored.
Some concluding reflections as we come towards the end of this episode. There are three things I want to comment on briefly. First of all, “What does Judas Iscariot teach us about salvation?” Can we lose our salvation? Did he lose his salvation? Did he ever truly believe in Jesus, or was he in it for personal gain, and particularly for financial gain? This has been discussed and debated amongst theologians. My own opinion is that he never truly believed. He was given the opportunity to, but he never did. A conclusive text for me is John 17: 12:
“None have been lost- none of my Apostles” “None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.”John 17:12, NIV
We can’t be 100% sure of our answer to this question, but the Scriptures seem to indicate something fundamentally flawed with him from the beginning. God, in his sovereignty, used Judas Iscariot for a particular purpose. It does provoke us to ask the question about our own salvation, our own walk with God, and our own fruitfulness, because Judas was utterly unfruitful.. What do we think about fruitfulness in the Christian life?
In the Life of Jesus, in Series 5 and Episode 8, we studied the Parable of the Sower, Matthew 13:1 - 23. If you’re interested in this theme, I’d encourage you to go back to that episode, because Jesus describes very clearly four types of responses to him. The seed in the field that fell on the path was like the word of God, the message of the Gospel, that was taken away by the birds of the air; it never landed; people never believed. Some seed fell in the rocky ground but that turns out not to have any roots and it dies it fades away. That’s rather like a nominal faith. Some people say ‘I believe in Jesus today’ but in ten years time they’re not there; they’re not believing. It’s possible to be just a Christian in name only. Maybe that was Judas. It’s possible to be a seed amongst weeds. When you’re unproductive there’s no room for growth, there are too many other distractions in life. Or, perhaps the seed lands in good ground, which is very productive. This is a thought I’m just leaving with you to develop in your reflection and in your study from this episode. “What do we learn from Judas Iscariot?” The story is told for many reasons. One is as a warning and an encouragement to us to be fruitful.
My second reflection is to ask the question, “How many original Apostles were there?” We’ve talked about the Twelve but we know from the New Testament that several other people were designated Apostles, who witnessed the resurrection and in 1 Corinthians 15: 3 - 8, we see Paul describing this. He mentions James, the half-brother of Jesus; he mentions all the Apostles as a larger number; and he mentions himself who was added in at a slightly later stage which we will discuss as we go through the book of Acts. It appears that there were more than twelve original Apostles who were witnesses of the resurrection and encountered Jesus and were commissioned by him. Some have estimated about fifteen or sixteen, and we can’t say confidently any more than that. There were more than the Twelve. The point that Luke has in mind here is, the twelve were the foundation, and others built on them. Paul built on what they established, as he himself describes as we’ll find later on.
My final comment is this, “How does Apostolic authority come down to us?” This is 2000 years ago. The Apostles died many, many generations ago, but the Christian Church’s authority is founded now primarily in the Bible itself and the New Testament is drawn together on the principle of Apostolic authority. The books of the New Testament were either written by Apostles, or written in association with them, or on behalf of them, by trusted associates like Luke. We can’t meet these Twelve. We can’t rest on their authority personally, but we can understand that it was Christ’s will, and God’s will through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that the Scriptures, the New Testament in particular, represents that authority today for us. That’s why we make such a big effort to study it so carefully, and so respectfully, in all its detail. Thanks for joining us for this episode.
The following questions have been provided to facilitate discussion or further reflection. Please feel free to answer any, or all the questions. Each question has been assigned a category to help guide you.
- With reference to the parable of the ‘soils’ - what soil are you in?
- What can be learnt from Judas Iscariot about salvation?
- What specific authority were the Apostles given? Use tagging and Life of Jesus Series 14 Episode 8.